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Table of Contents

Guidelines for Email Marketing

So, you want to engage your Kent State University audiences via email? Great! Here are some general guidelines that will streamline your process and improve the success of your message.

What are the Best Practices for Email Communication?

  • Email marketing is about building relationships. Make your emails personal and helpful to the recipient. Don’t just make sales pitches.
  • Segment your audiences and try to send emails at a rate that they prefer.
  • Answer replies sent to your “reply to” address in a timely fashion. You should send your email from a Kent State email address (not a personal one).
  • Do not communicate important information with images only, such as attaching a JPG flier about your event. Many email programs turn off images by default.
  • Do not place your main message in a PDF or Word attachment. Users are unlikely to open email attachments and not all users have the software capable of displaying these documents. If needed, you may place a link to a web page for more information.
  • Email is much more primitive than web pages. You generally cannot embed videos or interactive features.
  • Update your lists to remove outdated addresses. Take note of people who unsubscribe by replying to your messages. Send out an annual message making sure your subscribers are "opted in" or still want to receive your emails.
  • Track and test behavior. Do people open your mail in the mornings? Afternoons at 2? Use data via Google Analytics and your email marketing tool's own metrics to fine tune your tactics.
  • Your email must be easily readable on a small screen (smartphone) devices. Many users (particularly students) use mobile devices to read their email. 

How Do I Send Out My Message?

For official and critical Kent State University communications, University Communications and Marketing may be able to distribute the message for you. Messages distributed by UCM must meet the official communication criteria. Please submit a communications request to see if your proposed communication meets this criteria.  

If your communication does not meet the official criteria (ongoing newsletters, general promotional information, academic/administrative departmental updates, external audiences), your department or organization will need to sign up with a third-party email marketing provider.

Kent State University has no official email marketing provider. Unless otherwise arranged, each department, college or school should find its own provider. UCM can make suggestions and help set up the service.

Constant Contact and MailChimp are already used by several departments on campus. These services allow you to maintain your own database of users and prepare emails that are in HTML (rich text) format.  Nonprofit pricing is available.  


To Whom Can I Send My Message?

  • For messages that meet the official communications criteria, email can be targeted to active students, active faculty, active employees and alumni.  You may also have a specific list of students or employees prepared by the Registrar’s Office or Human Resources.  You must submit a communications request at to have your message distributed in this manner.
  • For communications being sent outside of University Communications and Marketing, you’ll need to begin preparing a database of users.  Generally, when communicating to non-employees, they must first tell you they'd like to receive your messages (known as "opting-in).  In fact, sending large amounts of unsolicited email communications (even to internal addresses) may get your account flagged as SPAM in services such as Constant Contact or MailChimp (see Notes About SPAM)
  • Check with your academic or administrative department's leadership for their policies about emailing students and staff specifically within your program, classes or department via a departmental listserv.
  • To ensure your message isn’t flagged as SPAM, you can set up an opt-in form on your website, where interested users can sign up to receive newsletters.  Email marketing services will usually provide code to use on your website to make this process easier. 

When Should I Send My Message?

  • According to MailChimp's Email Genome Project, more people open email during the day than at night.
  • More emails are sent during the week than on weekends, with Tuesday and Thursday being the highest volume days.
  • Many people read their emails from their phones in bed when they wake up.

Data provided by MailChimp, November 2013

How Do I Prepare My Artwork, Content and Design?

Artwork for email communication must adhere to some specific guidelines to ensure it can be displayed on multiple browsers, email clients and mobile devices. Here are some specifications to keep in mind:

  • Templates: It may be easiest and time efficient to use or modify a pre-built template from your third-party email marketing provider. Sometimes, it's best not to recreate the wheel.
  • Call to Action:  It is recommended that you include a “Call to Action” in your communication, which can be as simple as a link to a web page. Calls to action not only allow your audiences to get more information, but allow you to determine return on investment (ROI) on your message by adding Google Analytics tracking to the link. If you are linking to a page with analytics already set up, tracking is as simple as appending ?email=true to your link. This will help you differentiate links coming from your email versus the general website.

Call to action

  • Avoid Background Images:  Email does not currently support background images. This means you cannot have plain text that overlaps an image.
  • Columns:  Columns in your email must be set up in a grid format. Think of a grid as a table you might find in Microsoft Word. Each block of text or graphics gets its own cell in the table, and cells cannot be merged.  

Columns comparison

  • Use Text When Possible:  The majority of email clients will not display images in email by default (see image below). This means your message must be in a readable state with images turned off. Ensure that you format your primary message in plain text and include alternate text for any images.  Remember, plain text must be a standard serif (Times New Roman or Georgia) or Sans-Serif (Arial, Helvetica) font. If you are using a call to action image button, be sure to include an alternate link for users who do not have images turned on.  

No images

  • Don’t Forget the Subject Line:  The message’s subject line can make or break your message. If users do not see a subject relevant to them, they may not open your message at all! Keep in mind, many mail clients now include a preview of the first few lines of text in the email as well.
    • According to MailChimp: Your subject line should simply describe the subject of your email - nothing fancy.  As MailChimp notes, "When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what's inside, and the worst subject lines sell what's inside."
    • Interested in the best and worst open rates based on subject lines? Check out MailChimp's research.

  • Branding and Contact Information: Include the Kent State logo in the header or footer of your message, with a link back to If you are writing from a department or college, you may include your department-specific logo, with a link to your department’s home page instead. Be sure to include a phone number and/or email address in the footer as well.

Branding example

Notes About SPAM

Spam is unsolicited email. By sending email to only to those who have requested to receive it, you are following accepted permission‐based email guidelines. There are exceptions, of course, including transactional emails (e.g. a sales receipt, shipping notice, etc.) and office email.

All legitimate email marketing providers follow the provisions of the federal CAN‐SPAM Act. Many supplement the act with their own rules in their terms of service. The combination of law and terms of service place a high bar for what qualifies as SPAM.

Constant Contact and other reputable email marketing programs have strong anti‐spam policies. For example, before uploading an email list on Constant Contact, the service makes you answer “yes” to each of the following statements:

  • My list is consent based ‐ All contacts have given me or my business their prior consent to receive email communications.
  • My list is NOT a third party list ‐ My list has not been purchased, rented, appended or given to me from any third party source.
  • My list does NOT contain role addresses or distribution lists ‐ E.g. email addresses that may be received by more than one individual: sales@, support@, users@, list@, etc.
  • My list does NOT contain e­mail addresses captured in my address book without prior consent. Including but not limited to: user group addresses, transactional addresses or auto‐response addresses.

Any addresses uploaded to Constant Contact or the other services that do not follow all four statements violate its terms of service. Here are other some caveats to remember:

  • Make sure the people on your list have explicitly consented to receive emails from you for the purposes of marketing or communicating to them. Do not copy/paste addresses you find on the web.
  • Make sure the list is current. Lots of old email addresses cause lots of bounces, which influence your email’s deliverability.

A SPAM report occurs when one of your subscribers receives your email campaign and then reports it as unwanted. This can be as easy as selecting the “This is SPAM” button in their email account or the subscriber sending a complaint directly to Constant Contact or to another reporting service. As an example, Constant Contact tolerates only one SPAM report per 1,000 e­mails sent.

Opt-Out Links

If you’re distributing a commercial (promotional) electronic mail message, you must include an opt-out link at the bottom of your message, which allows users to unsubscribe from future communications. Most email marketing tools provide an option for you to include this link.  

Also consider reminding the user why they are receiving your message along with this link (For example, "You are receiving this email because you subscribed to receive updates from Kent State University").

Mail Merge

Bypassing the major email marketers does not circumvent the law. You are still obligated to give an opt‐out statement, provide address/phone number in the footer and use a valid “from” email address that accepts correspondence.

Mail merges provide the same perils as using email marketing tools, with additional challenges. Those include:

  • By using a mail merge, you are unable to track whether you recipients have or have not received a message.
  • You lose the high reputation that many email marketers have with email providers. Your bulk message could be registered as spam and automatically moved to the recipient’s spam box. Even worse, your message may not reach the recipient at all. You also risk damaging your email address’ and host’s reputation and ability to deliver email in the future.
  • Many email providers put limits on how many email addresses they will accept in the “To:”, “Cc:” and “Bcc:” fields. The “Bcc:” field is a popular choice for spammers and receives particular scrutiny.

Wikipedia provides a good overview of additional email rules and regulations relating to the CAN‐SPAM Act.

Preparing A Custom HTML Email - For “Techies” Only

When marking up your message’s HTML, here are some conventions to follow that will save you some headaches:

  • Email with artwork is generally set at a fixed width. The recommended width is 700px (give or take a few pixels). This will ensure users who are viewing email in preview mode do not have to scroll horizontally to view your message. Wrap your message in a <body style=”margin:0;”> tag to reset all default margins around your message.
  • Center Your Message:  Insert a div with style=”700px; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;”
  • Use a table to position elements. Add cellspacing=”0”, cellpadding=”0” and style=”border-collapse: collapse” to your table
  • Add explicit heights and widths to rows and cells that contain images.  Use the exact image dimensions for each cell
  • Set a style on each image to “display: block”
  • Set table cells to valign=”top”
  • Use inline styles on all elements - remembering, not all mail clients support all CSS styles
  • Send out a test message and view your message in all popular email services and email clients: Gmail in Internet Explorer, Gmail in Firefox, Gmail in Chrome, Hotmail or Office 365, Outlook for Windows 2010, Outlook for Mac 2011, Apple Mail, iPhone, iPad and Android default mail clients
  • If you are interested in creating responsive email that changes to fit different screen sizes, you may be interested in these Responsive Email Templates from Zurb.

For more information, contact the University Communications and Marketing Web Team at